Former freelance arts journalist Candelora Versace spent years, as she puts it, "bouncing around," but moving to Santa Fe in the late 1980s calmed her nomadic streak. It's also living here that helped her hone her craft and, as of a few weeks ago, self-publish Traveling Light, her first novel. Set between Santa Fe and Oaxaca, Mexico, Versace's book examines a group of characters coming to terms with their lives, themselves and their own hopes and ambitions. Versace reads from the book at Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse this week (6 pm Thursday May 16. Free. 202 Galisteo St., 988-4226), where it is also available for purchase.
Why go the self-publishing route?
I got a few rejections from agents over the years as I continued to refine the book and improve it, and I sort of felt the clock ticking. The publishing business has changed a great deal. I think publishing houses are looking for blockbusters, the sure thing, Michelle Obama; something that will come out of the gate hard and fast. Literary fiction, regional fiction, small quiet stories that are thought-provoking—you have to work really hard to raise them to a level of sales. I could probably have spent a lot of time finding the right agent, but I was finally like 'Just get it out into the world!' I'm grateful the technology exists to do that. … It provided me the opportunity of getting the work out there. It'll do whatever it does, but at least it's not still on my desktop.
I have to know—is any of Traveling Light autobiographical? How much of yourself wound up in there?
It is not my story. It is fiction, these are fictional characters and the events of the plot and the narrative arc are not real. But every writer puts parts of themselves into things they do, so certainly there are parts of myself in all of the different characters—good, bad or indifferent. I used to travel to Oaxaca a lot, the coast, the mountain villages, and the experience of being in this very foreign environment, for somebody from Detroit, these are obviously very unusual places to go visit. The experience of being in these places where it's so different … for me, there's a sense of displacement. That stayed with me long after the reasons I would be visiting these places. It was much more about that feeling of being displaced.
Did anything surprising come up for you while you were writing the book?
The book itself taught me a great deal. It helped me crystallize the way I think about how we make choices in our lives, how we create the life we want. But also just process-wise, the characters showed me who they were. The plot evolved. I'm not an outlining kind of writer, I didn't have any idea of what it was going to be about. It's sketches of experiences, and I was trying to work with the words to create a feeling a reader could go in and be changed by. It revealed itself over time. One of the things I learned in my years of freelancing was the ability to go full circle in an article without having to prod it out. You start somewhere, it takes you somewhere; it does that organically rather than you imposing on that.